Japan's poverty gap has politicians calling for rise in minimum wage
It is only over the past decade that poverty has come to be recognized in Japan. Prior to that, the government didn't even compile statistics on income inequality.
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He owes “a few hundred thousand yen [a few thousand dollars]” to a couple of private loan companies, but says he can’t see “how or when” he can repay it. When work dries up, Hiro is forced to apply for welfare assistance, something he says he and his family finds “shameful.”Skip to next paragraph
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However, not only those at the bottom are being affected by increasing poverty and pessimism about the country’s future.
“The postwar baby boomers believed that their children would have better lives than them. But these days, many people no longer think that,” says Masami Iwata, a professor of social welfare at Japan Women’s University.
“At this university, the academic level is dropping: Perhaps it’s because students feel they don’t have a goal to aim at anymore,” says Professor Iwata.
The results of a Gallup survey, released July 25, on optimism in 150 countries, found Japan the fifth most negative nation, with 30 percent of the population expecting their lives to get worse in the future. Countries that were more negative about the future include strife-torn Syria and austerity-hit Portugal and Greece.
“Crime is still low, though we have more than 30,000 suicides a year and an increase in depression. However, the social order, which has been a feature of Japanese culture, could be under threat as poverty grows and the gap in society continues to widen,” says Iwata, who adds she fears the rise of “intolerance and aggression.”
It is only over the past decade that poverty has come to be recognized in Japan. Prior to that the government didn’t even compile statistics on income inequality. Sixteen percent of Japanese now live on less than half the average national income, making it the sixth most unequal country in the world, according to the OECD.
“The biggest change is in the situation of the working poor, mostly temporary employees who can be hired and fired easily. They have no job security and their wages are being forced down,” says Toshio Ueki, a spokesperson for the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), which has had parliamentary representation for more than six decades.
The JCP campaigns for a minimum wage of 1,000 yen ($12.80) an hour, which Mr. Ueki suggests, “would get the economy moving,” paid for by tax increases for high earners and big business.
A rise in the minimum wage level, which ranges from 625 yen to 850 yen according to area and industry, would boost the income of temporary workers like Hiro.
“I want to start a family and have children,” says Hiro. “But I can’t even think about getting married when I have no steady income.”